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The Woman Readerby Belinda Jack
Synopses & Reviews
This lively story has never been told before: the complete history of women's reading and the ceaseless controversies it has inspired. Belinda Jack's groundbreaking volume travels from the Cro-Magnon cave to the digital bookstores of our time, exploring what and how women of widely differing cultures have read through the ages.
Jack traces a history marked by persistent efforts to prevent women from gaining literacy or reading what they wished. She also recounts the counter-efforts of those who have battled for girls' access to books and education. The book introduces frustrated female readers of many eras—Babylonian princesses who called for women's voices to be heard, rebellious nuns who wanted to share their writings with others, confidantes who challenged Reformation theologians' writings, nineteenth-century New England mill girls who risked their jobs to smuggle novels into the workplace, and women volunteers who taught literacy to women and children on convict ships bound for Australia.
Today, new distinctions between male and female readers have emerged, and Jack explores such contemporary topics as burgeoning women's reading groups, differences in men and women's reading tastes, censorship of women's on-line reading in countries like Iran, the continuing struggle for girls' literacy in many poorer places, and the impact of women readers in their new status as significant movers in the world of reading.
"'omen readers have long been associated with sexual illicitness and moral degeneration, and male readers with power and authority.' The vivacious prose of this cultural history of the figure of the woman reader is its own recommendation. Jack's somewhat overstuffed volume (after George Sand: A Woman's Life Writ Large) examines the fraught history of the reading woman in (for the most part) the western world. This book is nothing if not compendious, which is the source of both its charm and its folly. Individual essays, which cover the figure of the woman reader from the classical world to the medieval cloister to the contemporary book club, are often powerfully argued, and Jack's ambition is praiseworthy. But the breadth of the canvas overwhelms: the book moves from one piece of evidence to another at a breathless pace in order to accelerate enough to reach the next century (any of the chapters would, extended, make a fine book in its own right). Accordingly, some of the claims here feel less culturally particular and temporally anchored than they might. 'Admiration for women who read and wrote coexisted with anxieties about their effects in myriad different cultures,' she writes. It's a point well worth making, but phrased in such a way as to make it seem an inevitable generality. (June)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
How have women read differently from men through the ages? In all manner of ways, this book asserts.
About the Author
Belinda Jack is tutorial Fellow in French, Christ Church, University of Oxford. She is the author of George Sand: A Woman's Life Writ Large and Beatrice's Spell. She lives in Oxford, UK.
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